Teen firefighters step up to the flames as Texas wildfires spread throughout panhandle

When the largest wildfire in Texas history made its way to the town of Pampa earlier in the week, 15-year-old Nathan Slater told ABC News that he immediately knew where he had to be.

Just minutes after his mother, Christie, picked him up from school Monday after classes were postponed due to the fires, he told her that he needed to respond to a page from the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department, where he had been training and volunteering for the last couple of months as a junior firefighter.

"It was my first fire to go onto. I was excited and nervous at the same time," Nathan told ABC News.

PHOTO: Nathan Slater, a junior volunteer firefighter with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa, Texas, helped to fight the state's raging wildfire. (Nathan Slater)
PHOTO: Nathan Slater, a junior volunteer firefighter with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa, Texas, helped to fight the state's raging wildfire. (Nathan Slater)

When he arrived at the station, he discovered he wasn't the only teen member of the brigade to answer the call.

MORE: At least 2 dead as largest wildfire in state history tears through Texas Panhandle

Throughout the week, the nine junior members of the volunteer fire department were deployed and paired with an experienced adult fighting the wildfires around the town, which forced the evacuation of some homes.

The teens, who range from ages 14 to 17, were given various tasks by their supervisors – from providing water and supplies to members who were in the field, to hosing down the fires and heated grass.

PHOTO: Firefighters survey wildfire damage in Pampa, Texas. (Gage Hardman)
PHOTO: Firefighters survey wildfire damage in Pampa, Texas. (Gage Hardman)

As of March 1, the Smokehouse Creek Fire, centered in the northern Texas panhandle, has burned through more than a million acres in Texas and 25,000 acres in Oklahoma, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The fire was 15% contained as of March 1, the forest service said.

Gage Hardman, 15, told ABC News, that he worked late into the early morning hours for three days straight to help fight the blaze.

PHOTO: Gage Hardman, a junior volunteer firefighter with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa, Texas, helped to fight the state's raging wildfire. (Gage Hardman)
PHOTO: Gage Hardman, a junior volunteer firefighter with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa, Texas, helped to fight the state's raging wildfire. (Gage Hardman)

He said that he felt some fear as he came close to the smoke and fire but at the same time, there was an adrenaline rush as he helped extinguish the flames.

"Once you get used to it wasn't scary," he said, adding of his mindset as he moved through the fires, "It was more of a 'get through it, you'll be fine.'"

MORE: Why the Texas Panhandle is seeing such explosive wildfires right now

Kade Preston, 17, told ABC News that the brigade's superior officers were careful to make sure that everyone was safe as they performed their duties. The teens also kept an eye on each other's well-being during their shifts, Kade said.

PHOTO: Gage Hardman, a junior volunteer firefighter with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa, Texas, helped to fight the state's raging wildfire. (Gage Hardman)
PHOTO: Gage Hardman, a junior volunteer firefighter with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa, Texas, helped to fight the state's raging wildfire. (Gage Hardman)

"If we go get off the line…we'll check on each other, see how we're doing, give them water, if we have water, just check on them mentally, and physically and just see how they're feeling," he said.

"I feel like it did alleviate some nerves in my system. It meant for me knowing that some of my friends were with me," Gage added.

For some of the junior firefighters' parents, the experience was simultaneously scary and poignant.

Christie Slater, Nathan's mother, told ABC News that she was in tears when she dropped off her son at the station Monday, and when he returned from his shift early Tuesday morning.

"I was kind of in shock about the whole situation. So yeah, it takes a bit to realize what your baby's actually doing when he's out there fighting those fires," she said.

Nathan said his family was on his mind while he was out fighting the fire.

"It was getting devastating when it was getting closer, and seeing my parents evacuate while I was standing back and helping them. But I knew they were getting safe and I'd be safe because I had everyone at the fire department around me," he said.

PHOTO: Christie Slater, Nathan Slater, Gage Hardman and Heather Hardman. (Courtesy Heather Hardman)
PHOTO: Christie Slater, Nathan Slater, Gage Hardman and Heather Hardman. (Courtesy Heather Hardman)

Heather Hardman, Gage's mother, told ABC News that she felt immensely proud of her son's courage, stepping up when the community needed all the help it could get.

"He's around some really, really amazing men. And so, I just think it was a good opportunity for him to learn what it is that he wants to do later on down the road," she said.

MORE: 'Devastating' Texas wildfires spark disaster declaration, nuclear plant partial evacuation

"When your kids decide that they want to join the Army or the Marines, or if anything these days, all…can have negative outcomes. So just remain positive and support your kids and let your kid show the world that there's still hope and our youth and that they're not just, you know, going on the wayside," Hardman added.

PHOTO: Nathan Slater and Gage Hardman, junior volunteer firefighters with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa Texas, pose for a selfie while on duty fighting a wildfire on Feb. 26, 2024. (Gage Hardman)
PHOTO: Nathan Slater and Gage Hardman, junior volunteer firefighters with the Hoover Volunteer Fire Department in Pampa Texas, pose for a selfie while on duty fighting a wildfire on Feb. 26, 2024. (Gage Hardman)

Many of the junior firefighters told ABC News they joined the effort because they needed something to do and wanted to stay out of trouble. After fighting the wildfires, many said they plan to contribute more to the firehouse where they can and may possibly look into being a first responder as a career when they grow up.

For now, as the wildfires continue to spread and more parts of the Texas panhandle continue to burn, the boys said they hope that their work, camaraderie and spirit can inspire others to lend a hand during dark times.

"I believe it says that there's still good people," Nathan said of his comrades' dedication.

Teen firefighters step up to the flames as Texas wildfires spread throughout panhandle originally appeared on abcnews.go.com